One of Josh Qaumariaq’s band members is stuck at his day job and running late for their final show of a three-week stint at Toronto’s Dakota Tavern. But Qaumariaq isn’t ruffled.
Tonight, he will front a group of local musicians picked for this residency. The faces of his band are constantly changing due to logistics and availability—fitting for a band called the Trade-Offs. Qaumariaq likes that dynamic. “Different players brings different vibes,” he says. “One of my players back home, he’ll play really fast sometimes and another guy will play funky sometimes. It makes it fun and changes things up.”
Qaumariaq was born and raised in Iqaluit, which he still calls home. He returned there between Dakota shows. He also flew to Northern Quebec for a gig and in a couple of weeks he’ll play a festival in Edmonton. “I just want to play everywhere.”
He first picked up a guitar in Grade 12 for no other reason than his friends were doing it. Some of those friends are members of The Jerry Cans, who now also manage him under their record label, Aakuluk Music.
Qaumariaq started out playing blues chords and riffs but took a while to sing along. And then he found his voice—deep, rolling and soulful. “I remember the feeling I had when it happened. I don’t know when it was, but it really just made you feel good,” he says. “Just the feeling inside, like ‘oh, that’s nice.’ Kind of like when you’re drinking cold beer and it’s so hot out.” (It’s 30 C in Toronto—and it has been for weeks.)
The dynamic nature of the band beyond himself and the other founder, bassist Jeff Maurice, led them to change the name to Josh Q and the Trade-Offs. (Maurice was busy “getting married and moving into a new house” during the Dakota residency, but remains Qaumariaq’s musical other-half.)
In early July, Qaumariaq was in the process of writing music for the band’s next album. And he has a lot to say.
“There’s a big epidemic in the North right now with suicide, so we want people to know that you can get out there and find your dream,” he says. “I’m doing what I love, and I just feel that I hope other people can see me doing what I do and try to figure out what they want to do instead of getting lost.”
His tone is somber and he collects himself for a minute. “I lost my best friend to suicide this year.” Qaumariaq played at the memorial.
“A woman asked me to write about suicide,” he says. “She just lost her daughter.” It’s a subject that can’t be avoided at this point, he says, and it’s important to him that he talks about it, and uses his platform to make sure others do as well.
The bar is filling up as Qaumariaq takes the stage. Patrons crowd forward to stand and sway. They hang on every word, in English and Inuktitut, he has to say.
Listen to: ‘The Other Side’. You’ll find yourself singing along to this track from 2016 album ‘Qaumariaq’ in no time.